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#pounditTuesday, February 7, 2023

March Madness coaches you can count to avoid a first-round exit

Poring over match-ups in the first round of the NCAA Tournament can be a painstaking chore, particularly when faced with a deluge of facts, stats and figures that fail to paint a complete picture. Roster turnover alone makes it incredibly difficult to put faith in a particular team based upon previous results.

Of the teams that comprised last year’s Final Four in Indianapolis, only six of the twenty starters returned this season. Suffice it to say, the only variable that remains unchanged for most tournament teams is their head coach. With that fact in mind, we decided to take a look at the coaches you can bank on in the first round of the tourney and some high-profile coaches to be wary of.


Roy Williams, North Carolina

25 appearances, 25-0 in the first round

One of the strongest branches of Dean Smith’s coaching tree, Williams has accomplished an incredible amount, splitting his coaching career between the plains of Kansas and Tobacco Road. Williams has led his teams to seven Final Fours and two national championships while also avoiding a single first-round exit in the Big Dance. Simply put, he’s the gold standard of the first round. In addition to his immaculate record, only eight of his 25 first round victories were decided by fewer than ten points.

John Calipari

John Calipari, Kentucky

16 appearances, 15-1 in the first round

Since arriving in the Blue Grass state, Coach Cal has posted an absurd 22-4 record in the NCAA Tournament as Kentucky’s head coach. Putting aside the fact that his Kentucky teams have advanced to at least the Elite Eight every year, Big Blue Nation has also pulverized its first round competition. As Kentucky’s head coach, Calipari’s average margin of victory is 15.2 points. The former UMass and Memphis head coach hasn’t lost a first-round contest since 2003.

Sean Miller, Arizona

8 appearances, 7-1 in the first round

In Miller’s first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach, his Xavier squad lost by just four points to Gonzaga as a 14-seed. Since then, Miller’s record during March Madness is a sterling 17-7 with six Sweet 16 appearances and zero first-round exits. The former Pitt Panther point guard has specialized in squeezing out close games. Five of his 17 NCAA Tournament wins have come by eight-or-fewer points. Miller grew up in Ellwood City, Pa., just 40 minutes from John Calipari’s hometown, so there must be something in the water in Western PA.

John Beilein, Michigan

9 Appearances, 7-2 in the first round

Beilein lost his NCAA Tournament debut, a first-round blemish that came 20 years ago when he was Canisius’ head coach. His next stop was at Richmond, which saw him orchestrate one of the greatest first round upsets of all-time, a 62-61 victory over South Carolina as a 14-seed. Beilein’s second stepping stone job led him to West Virginia in 2002. After a two-year run fueled by Kevin Pittsnogle, which saw Beilein score five wins in the Big Dance, Beilein was on the move again, this time to Michigan. In 2012, Michigan was nipped by Ohio in the first round. Since that first round defeat to the Bobcats, Beilein is 8-2 in the NCAAs. Michigan has also asserted its dominance in the first round, having waxed its last two first round opponents by 15 and 27 points respectively.


Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

Though Coach K has won five national titles and his Blue Devils are the reigning champs, the leader of Blue Devil Nation also has a recent history of early flame-outs. Three times in the past nine seasons the Blue Devils have failed to reach the Round of 32. Those losses came as a two, three and six seed, so don’t automatically advance the reigning champs past the first round if they secure a high seed on Selection Sunday.  

Bill Self, Kansas

Since taking the job in Lawrence, Self’s teams have been upset by a seven seed or higher, five times. That includes two losses in the Round of 64 and three in the Round of 32. The Round of 64 losses came in back-to-back seasons in ‘05 and ‘06, nearly costing Self his job.

Call us crazy but …

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

It’s surprising to see a coach with seven Final Fours to his name, who is widely regarded as one of the best March Madness coaches ever, labeled as a first-round risk, but the numbers bear that out. Izzo’s teams have bowed out in the first round four times in the last 14 years and nearly were upset by New Mexico State in 2010 as a 5-seed.


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